Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Eldership is Toast!

From out of nowhere came news that the three men who comprised the eldership of the Cincinnati Church of Christ: ("Lead Elder") Jim Fulcher, Joe Dilts, and Tom Meade, resigned from their positions and thus dissolved the eldership of the Cincinnati Church of Christ. Their pictures have been removed from their website (according to this post). The reason for their collective resignation is the inability for them to work together. Even with outside assistance and direction - from other International Churches of Christ congregations - they could not reconcile their differences and operate effectively as an eldership. In fact, it appears that they may have been directed by the other ICOC leaders outside of the Cincinnati Church of Christ to resign.
"[The elders] each spoke to us and said that they have tried for a while to work through the issues they had. Leaders from other [ICOC] churches were brought in to try and help them out, and give advice, but in the end they (ed: the elders or the leaders from the other ICOC congregations?) felt that what was best for the church (ed: the Cincinnati CoC or the ICOC or both?) would be them stepping down."
At this time, Lead Evangelist Doug Lambert will be leading the congregation. A process to choose new elders appears to be underway.

In my opinion, it's too early to draw conclusions and predict outcomes, but we do know the following facts and what they imply:
  • The Cincinnati Church of Christ leadership structure failed to transform from one man leading the entire church (the traditional ICOC model where an Evangelist possessed the ultimate and final power and authority for an entire congregation) to a plurality of qualified spiritual leaders shepherding the entire flock. This was one of the promises made after the events of the Henry Kriete Letter ten years ago.
  • Consequently, the elders were merely figureheads. The functional "eldership" was, and remains, the hired evangelists (Doug Lambert and John Cleghorn) and other paid staff (Michael DeAquino and Chase Mackintosh).
  • The Cincinnati Church of Christ could not resolve this situation internally as an autonomous church. They had to call in others in the ICOC for assistance to receive discipling. And that external discipling influence obviously failed to keep the eldership together.
  • Jim Fulcher failed to establish an eldership in the Cincinnati Church of Christ, even ending up as one of its elders. This is one of the reasons he was hired as the Lead Evangelist in early 2007.
  • If the most qualified men in the entire congregation couldn't work out their differences, even after decades upon decades of ICOC discipling - before, during, and after Kip McKean was over them in leadership - what does that say about their discipling system?
  • If this is the result of discipling for the most spiritually mature in the congregation, what kind of discipling is everyone else receiving and how are they maturing?
  • I'm not surprised that a dysfunctional eldership like this would have appointed a man as unqualified as John Cleghorn as an Evangelist. (See a previous post I wrote for details.)
  • How can this problem be avoided in the future? Can more ICOC-style discipling even fix this problem?
  • The Cincinnati Church of Christ, even after thirty years of existence as a discipling church, has failed to produce leaders from its own membership to effectively shepherd itself. How can it successfully replicate itself in the long-term by planting ministries and other churches?
In one sense, this event was surprising, but not unexpected. This is simply just another natural outcome of their theology. Jesus said "by their fruit, you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-20).

If you're a current member reading this, please think seriously about these facts and questions. There is no quick fix. Look hard at the past and look long towards the future. Do you want the discipling you receive and give to end up in a situation like Fulcher, Dilts, and Meade? Finally, don't be afraid to comment or send me an e-mail or tweet!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Validation: Gut Feeling

As Genesis 1:27 tells us, God created us human beings in His image, as the masterpiece of His creation. One of the marvelous aspects that we were created with is the ability of involuntarily reacting to our environment. Most of the time these involuntary reflexes help protect our lives. For example, if we accidentally touch something very hot with our hands, our hands, arms, and bodies will immediately recoil, mitigating damage taken from severe burns. Ignoring or overriding these involuntary actions take strength, energy, and concentration in addition to the great risk of harm that will likely come by ignoring these kinds of reflexes.

In the same way, God our Creator has not only given us involuntary physical reflexes, but mental and emotional reflexes as well. These help to avoid physical and psychological harm. The classic example is the fight-or-flight response. Sometimes it's more difficult to attribute these feelings to impeding or perceived danger, but in some circumstances, especially when they're told to an external observer, these "gut feelings" turn out to be absolutely correct.

In April of 2013, a member of the Cincinnati Church of Christ posted on the ICOC/ICC Discussion Forum on Delphi. His initial post gave typical defenses of ICOC doctrines and practices in the post-McKean era. One part did stand out (underlined emphasis mine):
I'm not thinking about leaving, and my goal isn't to "silence the criticism." I have issues myself sometimes, but I am not afraid to give voice to them, talk to leadership etc. Sometimes my issues get good answers that put them to rest and sometimes they don't. So far I don't have big enough issues with stuff to leave and stop trying to help the church grow, and I don't think there is abuse. There was a sermon a while ago that i did feel was waaayyyy [sic] strong and made me very uncomfortable (not "ouch, convicting" uncomfortable, but "this is wrong" uncomfortable) but a few weeks later he apologized to the whole congregation and said it was uncalled for and too much. Overall i don't usually feel like manipulative control is our issue.
Upon reading this, I responded to his post and affirmed that his instincts were likely correct. I also encouraged him that this was an opportunity to think and confirm that his instincts were correct. Was it just the delivery of the sermon that made him and many other members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ uneasy or was it the delivery and the contents of the delivery? I also asked him which sermon it was so I could listen to it.

He responded again:
He let his emotions about the subject cause him to go on a rant, and lost the love aspect of "speak the truth in love." That's what i mainly found wrong with it, and this was the only time in my 4 years here that I felt like I was hearing something similar to the bashings I've read about in the past.
This response didn't contain the response to the request I had made in the previous post for the sermon he was concerned about. After I had mentioned it to him again, another forum member graciously gave me the information. The sermon was based on Mark chapter 4 and was entitled "Seeds and Soils". It was delivered by Evangelist and Youth and Family Minister John Cleghorn. I wasn't surprised in the least that it was Cleghorn that went on a rant!

In the next post, the contented member of the Cincinnati Church of Christ explains the content of the sermon:

We were going through Mark, and that sunday [sic] was the parable of the sower. When talking about the worries of the world that choke our faith, [John Cleghorn] used an example of teens spending too much time on sports and got carried away, ending up saying parents were enabling it and would get to heaven to find their kids didn't make it, but hey at least they got a college scholarship.
There are many better ways to say ["]Why gain the world if you forfeit your soul?["] but that is all he was trying to say, i [sic] think.
I responded:
The scriptures clearly teach that it's the responsibility of parents to teach and model the faith once for all delivered to the saints to their children and the responsibility of the children to decide to follow Christ, whether it be early in their lives or many years later. Parents may enable their children to prioritize other things above Christ, but John Cleghorn is wrong to directly blame (and presumably lay guilt upon) [Note: keep reading this blog post because my presumption was correct!] the parents for their children not making it to heaven.

I would ask Cleghorn about those Kingdom Kids who grew up in the ICOC and whose parents made the Kingdom of God a priority, but those children are now no longer interested in Christianity whatsoever. Who's to blame there?
Although what Cleghorn was teaching from the pulpit was not obviously violating any primary Christian doctrines (as he and his cohorts have done many time in the past), what he was teaching was both clearly incorrect and highly manipulative.

Several days later, I listened to the sermon and posted a full analysis. The following is the section in question "preached" by John Cleghorn that made everyone uneasy:
"And I think in this area, I get a little scared because we've watered that down. We often don't water it down for ourself [sic], but we're OK missing church to go to something, to some sporting event, to some dance-thing, or some something and you think, 'Well, I'm committed.' But what are you teaching your KIDS? [My wife] Shannon and I made a decision with our children, they can play one sport. (And I think it's good to be in a sport or dance or something like that. I think that's GREAT. There are things you can learn on a team that you can't be taught unless you're on a team. I think that's great.) But my kids aren't going to join a sport that's going to get in the way of seeking the Kingdom first. Period! Maybe on our minds we're thinking, 'Well, they can be a pro athlete. Or they can get a SCHOLARSHIP and SAVE US MONEY.' I KNOW WE'RE THINKING THAT. WILL THEY GET A SCHOLARSHIP? SO WHAT?! WHO CARES IF THEY GET A SCHOLARSHIP IF THEY [pounds the pulpit] DON'T MAKE IT TO HEAVEN?!?! WHO CARES!?!?!? YOU'RE GOING TO BE IN HEAVEN AND GO, 'MAN, MY KID GOT A SCHOLARSHIP AND I'M FIRED UP, BUT THEY DIDN'T MAKE IT TO HEAVEN.' NO, YOU'RE GOING TO BE LIKE 'I BLEW IT!!!!!! [pounds the pulpit] I BLEW IT!!!!!!' [some clapping from the audience] 'MY KID'S EDUCATION WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOD'S WORD AND THEM BEING A CHRISTIAN.' It drives me crazy when I hear about parents that talk about if their kid did homework or not, but they didn't have a quiet time with them. They asked them more if they did their homework or if their homework was complete than if they ask they're walking with God. That STUFF DOESN'T MATTER! (Now you still need to get good grades, amen? [laughter from the audience]) But that stuff doesn't matter! 'Well, John's being hard.' No, I'M NOT BEING HARD, THAT'S WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!! AND IF YOU THINK IF YOU'RE FRUSTRATED, GET MAD AT GOD BECAUSE HIS EXPECTATION IS THAT!! AND I KNOW SOME OF YOU ARE BLARING AT ME, LIKE 'HE'S TALKING TO ME!' YES!!!!! I'M TALKING TO YOU, AND IT AIN'T JUST ME, IT IS GOD TALKING TO YOU THROUGH HIS HOLY SPIRIT, THROUGH HIS WORD: DON'T WATER DOWN GOD'S EXPECTATION BECAUSE WE WANT THESE KIDS TO BE FAITHFUL!!! ['amens' and applause from the audience]"
His "gut feeling" was correct, as well as many other members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ. Sadly, as this follow-up post details, he did not want to accept the facts that were exposed and the conversation came to an end. As of early July, he hasn't posted much, if at all, on the forum. And why should he? From what we can tell, he recently graduated from college, is in a "sharp" ministry of young professionals (as opposed to a "weak and weird" ministry of the "unsharp"), and all is smooth sailing. He's likely on the track of good graces with his peers and the leadership to date and marry as well. Why take direction from a "fall-away" who has confirmed that his instincts are correct and risk losing everything he has in Kip McKean's Christ?

The truth hurts. Leaving the International Churches of Christ over six years ago was one of the most difficult things I've done in my life. But seven years ago I woke up and realized that I was burning. The authentic Jesus Christ of true Christianity has healed me of the spiritual, emotional, and psychological burn wounds I've suffered at the hands of their demonic system. But what will happen to those today who remain burning and who continue to will themselves to ignore benefits of common grace in order to avoid what they perceive as inconceivable pain? You can only ignore your "gut" for so long before it gives out.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Validation: Meet the New Boss

On the ICOC/ICC Delphi discussion forum, I read an interesting thread involving three current ICOC members, all of which have been with the organization from at least the 1990's.

The first, who initially quotes a former member:

"The [Boston Church of Christ] will not change until all the old leaders are either gone or die off. Sorry to be so blunt.
If you read in Exodus, the LORD had the nation of Israel wander 40 years so that everyone died off and only the new generation could ever see the promised land. God forgives, but he takes righteousness very seriously. Even Moses himself was not allowed to witness the land that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants"
you know...i had this same conversation with a couple of folks about the ICOC on the whole.

This was followed by the second current member:

That's funny - I've had the same conversation, too. Though I see the occasional young evangelist who thinks the old days must have been great and it makes me very sad...

And this was followed by the third:

Me too, actually! I have had MANY of these conversations in the last 10 years, and a few very recently. I've said here before, but the ICOC as a whole will not collectively grow or get collectively healthier while the current leadership paradigm exists. And the current old boy club ain't given up control! Heck, Steve Johnson is on the evangelist committee thingie. And too many of the young leaders aren't being taught differently, either. I don't see it changing fellowship-wide at all.

We won't get fooled again.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Enjoy The Silence

In light of the tenth anniversary of the events surrounding Kip McKean's resignation from the ICOC and the Henry Kriete Letter, I've written an op/ed on the current state of the ICOC entitled Enjoy the Silence. What is the status of the ICOC now? What, if anything, has changed? And where are they going?

You can read the paper at: